Help for pas­sen­gers as Rail Om­buds­man be­gins op­er­a­tion

Rail (UK) - - News -

A new Rail Om­buds­man be­gan op­er­at­ing on Novem­ber 26, in a bid to im­prove pas­sen­ger com­plaints res­o­lu­tion.

The com­pany Dis­pute Res­o­lu­tion Om­buds­man will pro­vide the ser­vice. All train op­er­at­ing com­pa­nies fran­chised by the De­part­ment for Trans­port are part of the om­buds­man, which ex­cludes (at present) rail op­er­a­tors fran­chised by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties such as TfL Rail and Nexus.

The om­buds­man re­ceived its Al­ter­na­tive Dis­pute Res­o­lu­tion cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from the Char­tered Trad­ing Stan­dards In­sti­tute (CTSI) on launch day.

Pas­sen­gers can use the free ser­vice if they are un­happy with the fi­nal re­sponse to a com­plaint from a train op­er­a­tor, or if their com­plaint has not been re­solved within 40 days of re­ceipt. The Rail Om­buds­man will re­view ap­peals and at­tempt to re­solve them by me­di­a­tion or by is­su­ing a for­mal bind­ing rul­ing if no agree­ment be­tween the cus­tomer and the train op­er­a­tor can be reached.

CTSI Al­ter­na­tive Dis­pute Res­o­lu­tion project leader Andy Allen said: “If a trav­eller does have a valid com­plaint and feels that the rail com­pany con­cerned isn’t re­solv­ing it to their sat­is­fac­tion, there is now an­other av­enue for the con­sumer to go down. The fact that all mem­bers of the Rail Om­buds­man have signed up to use this ADR ser­vice is great news for train trav­ellers.

“It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted that con­sumers are more will­ing to use Al­ter­na­tive Dis­pute Res­o­lu­tion pro­cesses than to use the court process. It is also ac­cepted that these ADR pro­cesses are much bet­ter at main­tain­ing, or re­cov­er­ing, a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the con­sumer and trader.”

Rail Min­is­ter An­drew Jones added: “This is a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward for pas­sen­gers’ rights. This in­de­pen­dent om­buds­man will make sure pas­sen­gers are heard, and that they get a fair deal when train com­pa­nies fall short.”

Trans­port Fo­cus Chief Ex­ec­u­tive An­thony Smith wel­comed the launch of the om­buds­man, say­ing: “At last rail pas­sen­gers will join other con­sumers in hav­ing ac­cess to free, in­de­pen­dent, bind­ing dis­pute res­o­lu­tion.

“We ex­pect the abil­ity of the Rail Om­buds­man to im­pose bind­ing de­ci­sions to re­solve com­plaints. And the fact it can charge train com­pa­nies fees for do­ing this will drive im­prove­ments to the way most train op­er­a­tors han­dle pas­sen­ger com­plaints.

“We will track the work and ef­fec­tive­ness of the new scheme very closely, to make sure the Rail Om­buds­man de­liv­ers mea­sur­able ben­e­fits for pas­sen­gers.”

The om­buds­man’s in­tro­duc­tion comes as con­sumer group Which? crit­i­cised the way train op­er­a­tors han­dle com­plaints.

It says it stud­ied a year’s worth of data from the Of­fice of Rail and Road, and found that fewer than half of pas­sen­gers were sat­is­fied with how their com­plaints were han­dled.

In ad­di­tion, Which? claims that fewer than one in five pas­sen­gers on North­ern, Govia Thames­link Rail­way and Great West­ern Rail­way said they were sat­is­fied with the out­come or han­dling (or both) of their com­plaint.

North­ern was last or in the bot­tom three of the 18 train com­pa­nies in ev­ery as­pect of the com­plaints process that pas­sen­gers were asked about.

Cross­Coun­try or Chiltern Rail­ways scored high­est in most cat­e­gories, but Which? said sat­is­fac­tion lev­els were still fre­quently at 50% or be­low among the best per­form­ers.

In a sep­a­rate move, the Of­fice of Rail and Road (ORR) is launch­ing a mar­ket re­view into the role played by com­pa­nies in­volved with De­lay Re­pay claims com­pen­sa­tion.

The re­view will con­sider: whether such com­pa­nies face bar­ri­ers to en­ter­ing and ex­pand­ing in the mar­ket; the im­pact on train op­er­a­tors and how com­pen­sa­tion com­pa­nies should in­ter­act with them; how they op­er­ate and earn money, and whether con­sumers and busi­nesses would ben­e­fit from greater trans­parency over pric­ing; and the ex­tent to which such com­pa­nies can drive in­no­va­tion and the in­tro­duc­tion of new tech­nolo­gies.

The The ORR says in 201617, pas­sen­gers lost more than 3.6 mil­lion hours from seven mil­lion jour­neys that were de­layed by 30 min­utes or more, and that around 35% of el­i­gi­ble pas­sen­gers claimed a to­tal of £81 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion.

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